Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
I first saw the promos for the horror film Mama last summer and couldn't wait for it to come out in October 2012, just in time for Halloween. But Halloween came and went and Mama didn't. I soon discovered that the release was delayed until January 2013. That didn't sit well with me as I wondered about the delay. Could this mean that the movie wasn't as good as I thought it would be? Well, I decided I'd wait for this one to come out on video before checking it out, just in case. I should have gone with my first instincts.
In Mama, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is Jeffrey Desange, a troubled man who, caught in the midst of a financial crisis, kills his business partners and wife and kidnaps his daughters. A car accident leaves the Desanges out in the cold woods. Jeffrey finds a cabin and lights a fire to keep them warm, but he isn't done with his bloody task. He plans on killing his children and himself, but is prevented from doing so in the nick of time by a paranormal entity.
Flash forward five years and we meet Jeffrey's artist brother Lucas (also played by Coster-Waldau) who has been holding out hope that his search for his nieces will eventually bear fruit. His rocker girlfriend, Annabel (Jessica Chastain), stands by Lucas in his search for his nieces, never quite believing that they will be found. As luck would have it, the two children are found, still living in the abandoned cabin. The girls are emaciated and quite feral, having had no contact with people in five years. They often refer to someone named Mama who Victoria (Megan Charpentier) insists looked after them at the cabin, but their psychiatrist, Dr. Gerald Dreyfuss (Daniel Cash) believes that this is a manifestation of the young girls' minds serving to aid them in recovering from the horrors of their long-endured plight.
Lucas fights to gain custody of Victoria and Lilly (Isabelle NÚlisse), but seems certain to lose the battle until Dr. Dreyfuss offers a solution. The family can live in a house owned by Dr. Dreyfuss' clinic. That way, it will seem as Lucas and Annabel can provide a stable home, while still affording Dr. Dreyfuss constant contact with the girls. Of course, Dr. Dreyfuss is not doing this out of the goodness of his heart. He is intrigued by the girls and is excited about his case study.
Unfortunately, Dr. Dreyfuss reveals very little about his research and findings regarding Victoria, Lilly and Mama. Despite Annabel's reservations regarding raising the girls, things begin well, until Lucas gets severely injured in a fall down a flight of stairs. Raising the girls with Lucas was one thing - he is their uncle - but Annabel knows nothing about raising a child. Still, she is willing to do what she has to out of love for Lucas and when things start working out well between Annabelle and the kids, Mama becomes very unhappy...murderously so.
I wish I had not second guessed myself and seen this film in the theaters. I would have loved to see this played out in a dark theater on a big screen. Instead, I chose a dark, dreary, rain-soaked day to watch this in the darkened confines of my home. Though I was safe and sound, Mama left me more than a little spooked by the time it was done.
Jessica Chastain is an amazing actress. I've now seen her in dramas and comedies, but this is the first time I've seen her in a horror film and I am amazed at her versatility. Her characters are always dramatically different from one another and her look is always so substantially different that I have trouble recognizing her in each role, but the acting is always the same. Chastain always digs down deep to give each role her all and it has paid off. She had me thoroughly believing she was a rock band guitarist who really wasn't ready to care for kids, much less kids with psychiatric issues. And she had me rooting for her 100% when she ended up having to care for these kids alone. The bond formed between her and Victoria was quite believable - Megan Charpentier is quite the little actress herself.
There are other decent performances in this film, but they are overshadowed by the other woman in this film - Mama. Her history and her bond with Victoria and Lilly is what drives this film. Without Mama...well, there is no movie. Mama is played masterfully by special effects, Javier Botet and Hannah Cheesman (in her more human form). Her vocals are performed by Jane Moffat, Laura Guiteras and Melina Matthews. All of these people deserve great credit for making Mama the scary entity that viewers can still manage to care about thanks to her sad past and her obvious love for her adopted charges.
Horror fans who are into those slasher type films will be disappointed. This movie is more in the style of The Ring and The Eye - more haunting, less gore with a terrific background mystery that drags you in. If you want to understand the entity and its intentions, you have to investigate its background along with the main characters. That's something I loved about this film - the main characters may appear to be Annabelle, Lucas, Victoria and Lilly, but it is really Mama and her past pain and anguish that make this film so captivating.
I can gush on and on about Mama, but the only way you will know whether my assessment of this film is correct is to get your hands on a copy yourself. Hopefully, it will be a dark, dreary, rainy night...with perhaps a thunder strike here and there to enhance the spookiness of the film. Just know, that if you are a fan of the supernatural horror film, you definitely don't want to miss out on Mama!